There are some foundational, fundamental things that needs to happen with any improvement project within a law firm, particularly with Legal Tech, Digital or IT projects.
Why do IT projects fail?
Some of the common reasons that get cited for why Digital / IT projects fail include:
- Unclear requirements at the outset
- The scope being too complex or large
- Insufficient end-user involvement
- Poor or absent “change management”
All of these causes can, at least partly, be addressed by ensuring that two things happen early on in the project….
- Understand how the process(es) that will be affected by the new tech operate currently, and
- Get the people that will be affected by the new tech involved with the project
More on how to do that efficiently and effectively in a moment…..
Why do so many Digital / Legal Tech projects in law firms fail to deliver meaningful benefits?
As well as all of the causes listed above, there is an added complication with improvement projects in law firms.
Legal services are complex…
In my experience, it can be very difficult for an digital project team to understand the underlying legal processes and what actual problems they’re trying to fix.
One key question to answer at an early stage is “how much of the current process is repeatable & standardisable?” i.e. how much of the work can be process/procedurally driven as opposed to being highly complex “brain surgery”-type work?
“A lot of the routine, process-driven activities can be improved / automated with technology. A lot of the ‘brain-surgery’ can’t (despite what many vendors of Artificial Intelligence technology may claim). The problem is, you don’t fully know which is which until you’ve had a good look at it.”
Can you write down the steps in the process? If you can’t, it’s probably the brain-surgery type work. If you can, then great – it’s the kind of procedural stuff that can be repeated and carried out by a more junior individual or by technology.
The activity that enables all of this is “Process mapping”.
It is very important in the early stages of any law firm tech project that the project team understand how things work currently (and also what doesn’t work particularly well at the moment).
Process mapping is the best (and most simple) tool I’ve used to achieve that.
Process mapping isn’t glamourous or transformational (by itself). However, it is essential.
What typically happens?
Many Digital / Legal Tech projects simply don’t map current processes. For a number of years, the activity fell out of favour with some IT implementers who claimed that, rather than try to tailor their software to your existing ways of working, it was more appropriate to adapt your ways-of-working to match the “out-of-the-box” functionality of the software. I’ll leave it to the reader to decide whether that’s a good or bad idea.
For those projects that do include process mapping, the activity is generally carried out by a third-party e.g. Business Analysts or external Consultants / Contractors who, first of all, need to understand the intricacies of the underlying legal process. Invariably, they do not appreciate the subtleties of the process. Therein begins the lack of clarity with requirements. If the process mapping is done very well, then this challenge CAN be overcome.
The peripheral role of the subject matter experts (e.g. the Partners or Associates) also contributes to two of the other key causes of project failure (i.e. insufficient end-user involvement and poor change management).
What’s the alternative?
Imagine a scenario where your experts (e.g. your Associates) mapped out their own processes. I can hear the challenges already…..
“…..but our Fee Earners should be working on fee-earning matters!!”
True – but a major IT project is an INVESTMENT. It requires the investment of both time and money to be successful. If the benefits of doing the project don’t warrant the investment of some hours of Associate time, then it’s time to question whether the project is worth it.
“…..our Fee Earners don’t know how to complete process maps”
Yes, but there are quick and easy ways to upskill them so that they can. Either way, there is the need for upskilling. Either your Fee Earners (who understand the current process) need to learn how to process map, OR your third-party (who know how to process map) need to understand the intricacies of the legal process.
I know which one of these I think is easier to learn.
The other added benefit to this is that by upskilling your Fee Earners (and involving them deeply in the project), you are starting to embed a culture of continuous improvement.
Besides the benefits to your own firm, imagine how attractive it would be to your prospective clients to be able to state in a pitch that some (or even all) of your fee earners are trained in basic continuous improvement techniques.
That should be very valuable to clients who expect their advisors to be delivering advice and value in an efficient and effective manner.
In summary, map your processes at an early stage of a project to ensure that current ways-of-working are well understood. If you can, involve your Fee Earners in the process mapping exercise. Ultimately, they will be the ones that will adopt the end solution and the chances of them doing that are increased if they’re meaningfully involved in the project.
To learn more, check out our previous blog on “how to map legal processes”